“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
— Martin Luther King Jr.
How ironic that, on the weekend we pause to remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we are treated to comments about “why do we need people coming from “s---hole countries,” countries where the residents are not white and generally not wealthy. There could not be a more stark juxtaposition.
It’s unfortunately more urgent than ever to revisit some of the lessons from Dr. King.
Dr. King was a leader who not only had a vision, but could share that vision and bring people with him.
“I have a dream,” he thundered, and then laid out that dream for millions of Americans. A dream that one day, “on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood” and of course his dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Dr. King was not only gifted as a speaker, he also knew how important it was to continue speaking up, even if it was risky to do so.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” he said, and, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Rep. Mia Love, the nation’s first Haitian-American member of Congress, had some strong words for President Trump’s crass comments and has demanded an apology. I applaud her.
Dr. King was able to inspire people by his dreams of what this nation could be because he knew how to engage their hearts. Logic may engage the mind, but people with engaged hearts move mountains. He knew the difference between informing and inspiring and he did not stoop to crude, disparaging language. He also knew that no matter how impossible the dream, it was worth pursuing — and dying for.
I used to to think that no one really wanted to follow a narcissist, but I’ve been proven wrong. However, the best leaders know and acknowledge it’s not all about them. Dr. King could not have been the leader of the civil rights movement without his supporters and he knew it.
He said: “I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.”
Of course, Dr. King’s credo should also sound familiar: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others.”
Dr. King knew great leaders must inspire and call on people to act in accord with their highest values, not their baser impulses. He urged his followers to conduct their struggle on the “high plane of dignity and discipline.” Great leaders don’t skirt the edges of the unethical and immoral, nor do they resort to hateful, violent tactics.
Dr. King admonished his followers: “There is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred …Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led through love, not hate. Hope, not fear. On a weekend when we honor the legacy left by Dr. King, the reminder could not be more timely.
Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, knows Martin Luther King Jr. was far from perfect — as we all are — but he was a persistent, committed man with a vision who has inspired many. She is grateful for the legacy and hope he left behind.